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$485 million announced to strengthen Virginia’s behavioral health system

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Published: Jul. 28, 2021 at 2:29 PM EDT
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ARLINGTON, Va. (WDBJ) - Virginia will commit $485 million in federal and state funding to address challenges in Virginia’s behavioral health system, according to Governor Ralph Northam. The plan includes targeted investments to alleviate pressure on state mental health hospitals, strengthen community-based services, and increase support for substance abuse treatment and prevention programs.

“Every Virginian should have access to the behavioral health care and treatment they need, either in their home communities or in a state-operated facility,” said Governor Northam. “The pandemic has led to increases in depression, anxiety, substance use disorders, and other mental health issues in Virginia and across the country, which has added to the strain on our behavioral health system and the valued people who work within it. This funding package is a down payment that will significantly increase support for our state hospitals, community-based providers, and substance abuse prevention and treatment programs so they can best help those who rely on their services.”

“COVID-19 has had a devastating effect on both the mental and physical health of Virginians,” said Secretary of Health and Human Resources Daniel Carey, MD, MHCM. “These investments will mean Virginians will receive the care they need in the communities where they live.”

The $485 million investment includes state funding as well as federal dollars from the American Rescue Plan and the Coronavirus Response and Relief Supplemental Appropriations Act, and is focused on three areas—state mental hospitals, community-based services, and opioid and substance abuse treatment.

Virginia’s mental health hospitals have faced high census levels for a number of years, according to Northam, and the pandemic has made the situation more challenging. The funding package has nearly $200 million for staffing at state behavioral health facilities and intellectual disability training centers. That includes $45 million to continue staff bonuses and an additional $154 million in the two-year budget Governor Northam will submit in December for salary adjustments.

“State hospitals are in desperate need of help,” said Senator Louise Lucas (D-18), Chair of the Senate Education and Health Committee. “This funding will mean that Virginians can access the quality care they need, when they need it, without placing a burden on our community services.”

“These measures outline a significant step towards ensuring state hospitals remain operational for the immediate and foreseeable future,” said Delegate Mark Sickles (D-43), Chair of the House Health, Welfare and Institutions Committee. “We have to take action now to address these critical issues.”

The funding proposal also includes $150 million to increase access to community-based crisis services and child and family support services, says Northam, and provide dispatcher training for the Marcus Alert program, a new statewide mental health alert system designed to ensure behavioral health experts are involved in responding to people in crisis. An additional $5 million will be dedicated to providing permanent supportive housing in Northern Virginia to assist with bed shortages.

“Over the past eight years, we have worked to restructure our mental health system and to better fund services, but we still have much to do to best help Virginians with mental health needs,” said Senator George Barker (D-39), member of the Senate Finance Committee and the Behavioral Health Commission. “The federal dollars will help meet needs now, and we will continue to build the best mental health system in the 2022 legislative session.”

“Today’s announcement is a down payment toward our long-term commitment of improving Virginia’s behavioral health system,” said Delegate Patrick Hope (D-47), Vice Chair of the Behavioral Health Commission. “It is only through a sustainable investment in community-based care will we truly recognize the lasting benefit and I am committed to a fully-funded community safety net to meet all our behavioral health needs.”

“Expanding community capacity ensures patients are cared for in an appropriate setting,” said Delegate Rodney Willett (D-73), Chair of the Behavioral Health Subcommittee. “I am grateful for the partnership between the Department of Behavioral Health and Development Services, the Administration, the General Assembly and the private sector to ensure equitable behavioral health services across the state.”

The plan also allocates $103 million for opioid and substance abuse treatment services. In 2020, Virginia saw nearly 2,300 overdose deaths, a 41 percent increase from the previous year, says Northam, and the 2021 number is projected to be higher. This funding will support community-based prevention, peer counseling, and harm reduction services.

The Governor made the announcement at the Arlington County Community Services Board for a tour of the Crisis Intervention Center and a roundtable with behavioral health leaders. The announcement is part of “Investment Week,” during which the Governor and legislative leaders are highlighting proposals for allocating the $4.3 billion in American Rescue Plan funding available to the Commonwealth in advance of the August 2 special session.

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